Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, July 30, 2004

UH regents, Dobelle agree on settlement

 •  Dobelle position, role of regents questioned
 •  Regents settlement statement
 •  Chronology of Dobelle's time at UH

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

An agreement that rescinds the "for cause" firing of University of Hawai'i president Evan Dobelle, finds "no wrongdoing" by either Dobelle or the Board of Regents and gives Dobelle a total settlement package worth $3.43 million was signed yesterday by the board and Dobelle.

In exchange, Dobelle will resign from the presidency effective Aug. 14, the same day he becomes a non-tenured UH researcher for two years at a salary of $125,000 annually.

Under the details of the agreement, Dobelle will:

• Receive $1.05 million in cash.

• Have the university pay his $290,000 in attorney fees.

• Have the university make annual payments of $40,000 for the remaining six years on a $2 million whole life insurance policy. As part of this agreement the Dobelle family must pay back to the university $400,000 in premiums on Dobelle's death, making the policy worth $1.6 million.

• Give up his tenure option but accept an appointment for two years in a non-tenured UH faculty research position.

UH regents attorney William McCorriston had no comment for reporters as he left a meeting in which a settlement between the regents and fired UH president Evan Dobelle was announced.

Photos by Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

The UH Board of Regents yesterday agreed to a settlement that calls for Evan Dobelle to receive $1.05 million in cash and remain at the school as a non-tenured researcher with an annual salary of $125,000.
• Relinquish rights to about $2.3 million from a combination of his salary under his original presidential contract and proceeds from an annual $150,000 incentive fund, including 5 percent interest.

The direct cost to the university comes to about $1.83 million. However, that amount does not include the university's legal fees.

The settlement signaled an end to six weeks of upheaval that began with the abrupt firing of Dobelle on June 15 and clears the way for the university to move forward, leaving behind an ugly chapter that capped more than a year of acrimony between the regents and Dobelle.

However, the regents' failure to reveal what they considered "the cause" for Dobelle's dismissal in the first place leaves behind a lingering skepticism over their actions and unanswered questions about the political overtones surrounding the firing.

In reaching the mediated settlement yesterday after nearly four weeks of negotiations, both parties agreed there was "no finding of wrongdoing on the part of either Dr. Dobelle or the board."

Dobelle, reached in Boston, Mass., where he was attending the Democratic National Convention, said: "I'm sorry I can't contribute to the future of Hawai'i as president of the university, but I have confidence the management team that I hired can finish the job that we started and I will look to contribute in other ways."

Dobelle, 59, came to UH from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., after a yearlong national search and was the most richly compensated president in UH history. He was fired just short of his third anniversary on the job, with four years remaining on his contract.

Regents hinted that there were concerns over his use of a protocol fund.

In a statement released as part of the settlement, both sides agreed "there were indeed several misunderstandings as the result of misinformation, as well as less than optimal communication between the board and Dr. Dobelle that exacerbated this problem."

The statement also noted that the board had fired Dobelle "for cause" June 15 "based on the information the board had at the time."

The statement went on to say:

"Based on the information the Board had at the time, the decision was made to relieve Dr. Dobelle 'with cause.'

"However, the board recognized at the time that it was obligated to apprise Dr. Dobelle of the basis of its 'for cause' decision, to allow him the opportunity to respond, and to reconsider their decision thereafter if warranted. This is the reason why the grounds for Dr. Dobelle's termination were not made public at the time.

"During the mediation process, Dr. Dobelle was apprised of the basis for the board's 'for cause' termination, and Dr. Dobelle was given the opportunity to respond to the issues raised.

"As in any dispute, there are always two sides. This dispute was no exception. However, while there is not an agreement on all issues, there is a deeper understanding of the perspectives of the parties, and how those perspectives came to be."

Board chairwoman Patricia Lee said the board would make no other comments after releasing the two-page statement and the agreement documents that accompanied it.

However, regent Trent Kakuda said, "I'm happy with the agreement."

It was not immediately known where the money will come from to pay Dobelle's settlement, and attorney Barry Marr, one of two firms hired by the board to handle the dispute, would not comment.

"I can't get into that," Marr said later. He also said he does not know what the costs are for the regents' attorneys, including William McCorriston who joined the team as mediation began.

As the agreement became known yesterday, Dobelle's lead attorney, L. Richard Fried Jr., noted that Dobelle "is happy all parties have put the university first.

"He's very pleased the matter has been resolved," said Fried of Dobelle.

"This is a win for all parties," Fried continued. "Protracted litigation is in no one's best interests."

Tom Ingram, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, which provides guidance on many issues for universities throughout the nation, did not want to comment on the terms of the settlement, but he did say that Dobelle's lucrative contract and firing were "very unusual" for a public university.

He said heads of universities are rarely let go for cause and even more rarely do they reach the point of threatening litigation. In most cases, he said, a resolution is reached so "everyone can leave with their heads up."

"Being a chief executive of a complex university is, first of all, a very tough business and boards know that and in this case felt compelled to offer a very generous package in the belief that this was a person who would bring the kind of leadership that was needed," Ingram said, speaking from his home in Delaware. "But life is what it is and sometimes there are just bad fits and you don't discover that until you work together for a while."

Ingram said the settlement was reached rather quickly and that was in the best interest of the state.

"It's best for everyone that this is settled and that everyone can get along with their lives and the university can get on with its business," he said. "This is really a good thing because these things when they dawdle on too long can be very harmful to the university and its reputation."

Staff writer Curtis Lum contributed to this report. Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.

• • •

The contract

Salary: $442,000 a year for seven years.

Incentive fund: $150,000 annually plus 5 percent interest.

Buyout: Would have included paying an annual salary for the remaining four years of his contract, plus three years of accrued incentive payments. The total would have been more than $2 million.

The side letter

A side letter signed by both Dobelle and then-regents' chairwoman Lily Yao stipulated that he would also receive:

• Sabbatical leave in his sixth year at his president's salary.

• Tenure as a full professor following his presidential appointment. It states that "after completion of your term as president you may return to teaching at the highest prevailing rate as a professor in your field."

• Protocol money provided by the UH Foundation of $150,000 a year.

• Dues paid for three country clubs as well as two clubs he belonged to at his hire.

• An additional $10,000 from First Hawaiian Foundation in annual travel money or to be used at his discretion.

The settlement

Regents reverse Dobelle's termination "for cause" and there is no finding of wrongdoing on his part.

Dobelle resigns effective Aug. 14 and becomes a nontenured researcher in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

Dobelle gets about $1.8 million in compensation: $1.05 million in cash, $290,000 in attorney's fees and a salary of $125,000 this year and next.

Dobelle gets a $2 million whole life insurance policy, with the family required to pay the university $400,000 upon Dobelle's death.

See more.

• • •